Biodiversity – Natural Communities

Nebraska truly is a prairie state. Prior to Euro-American settlement, nearly 95 percent of the state was covered by prairie, and less than five percent by woodlands and wetlands. The Nebraska Natural Heritage Program has defined 83 native plant community types for Nebraska – 48 upland types and 35 wetland types.
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Oak woodlands and savannas

Intermediate between prairie and forests, Midwestern oak woodlands and savannas support an array of plants and wildlife. Oak woodlands and savannas are fire-maintained plant communities. Since settlement of the region, the control of wildfires has allowed many of eastern Nebraska’s oak woodlands to succeed to closed forests, degrading habitat conditions for many plant and animal species. Detailed information on oak woodland restoration is available on the Oak Savannas website and U.S. Forest Service website.

Sandhill fens

One of Nebraska’s strangest plant communities are Sandhills fens. Ranging from a few to several hundred acres in size, Sandhill feds are cold, groundwater-fed wetlands with springy, saturated peat and muck soils that support a unique flora of northern species, such as bog bean, marsh marigold and cotton-grass not found elsewhere in the state. For more information on the ecology and plants of Sandhill fens view Inventory and Floristics of Sandhills Fens in Cherry County, Nebraska.


Nebraska contains more acres of wetlands than any surrounding state. These wetlands are very diverse and dynamic and include marshes, lakes, river and stream backwaters, oxbows, wet meadows, fens, forested swamps and seep areas. For more information, visit our wetlands page.

Selected species of conservation interest

Tallgrass prairie

Tallgrass prairie is one of the rarest North American ecosystems. Today less than one percent of the original tallgrass prairie that covered eastern Nebraska prior to settlement remains. To view a list of tallgrass prairie plant and animals species see A Guide to the Tallgrass Prairies of Eastern Nebraska and Adjacent States. For information on restoring tallgrass prairie see A Guide to Prairie and Wetland Restoration in Eastern Nebraska.

Sandhill prairie

Covering over 19,000 square miles, the Nebraska Sandhills are North America’s largest intact native grassland. Adding to the area’s uniqueness is the regionally high water table under the porous dunes that feeds nearly 2,000 shallow lakes and over a million acres of wetlands. For more information on the ecology of and conservation efforts in the Sandhills visit the Sandhills Task Force website.